Players say Bonds, A-Rod are cut above

MLB Player Survey

July 11, 2004|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds was chosen as the best player in baseball in a survey of his fellow major leaguers conducted during spring training, but it was somewhat of a split decision.

Bonds was named by 201 of the 475 respondents (42.3 percent) in the poll conducted by Tribune Publishing newspapers, which include The Sun. New York Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez, the highest-paid team athlete in history, was named by 158.

No one else was close.

"That's pretty accurate," said Orioles veteran David Segui. "You can't go wrong with one of those two guys. When you talk about the two best players, those are the two names you're going to hear, because they are head and shoulders above everybody else.

"I would go with Alex, but what Barry is doing right now is unbelievable."

Many of Segui's teammates agreed. Of the 18 Orioles who took part in the survey, eight voted for Rodriguez and five voted for Bonds, perhaps displaying an American League bias. Two pitchers picked Pedro Martinez.

The survey included 10 questions, ranging from naming the best teammate (Jim Thome) to asking if there is a steroid problem in baseball and whether players would be uncomfortable to have a gay teammate.

There were few surprises, but the level of toleration for a gay player in the locker room was nearly 75 percent.

"I'm surprised it wasn't higher," Segui said. "I don't see what the big concern would be."

One of the most intriguing survey results concerned the designated hitter, with players being asked, "What one rule would you change?"

After "no change," which gathered 28.2 percent, the most popular response was, "Eliminate the DH."

Fifty-nine players, or 23.4 percent of those interviewed, volunteered such a rule change.

"The pitcher should bat in either league," said Colorado Rockies pitcher Shawn Estes. "The pitcher needs to work in both leagues. Pitchers are athletes, too."

This is the 32nd consecutive season that the DH has existed in the American League, while the National League operates without it.

The owners would like to rid the game of the DH, primarily because those players tend to be highly paid veterans. The union wants to preserve the role for the same reason.

The 59 DH abolitionists, therefore, went against their union. Another 14 players expressed similar frustrations over the DH disparity, saying baseball should rid itself of the DH or make it a reality in both leagues.

Commissioner Bud Selig expressed surprise over the high number of players against the DH, but admitted it would be difficult to modify the status quo.

"At the moment, the National League clubs will never go for it," Selig said. "The American League clubs like it. It's going to take some kind of cataclysmic event, like overall realignment, to end the DH."

Players were somewhat split on the steroid question, with 234 (50.5 percent) saying steroid abuse is not a serious problem in baseball and 176 (38 percent) saying it is. The gulf was much wider when the subject was competitive balance, with about four of five saying - the $180 million Yankees payroll notwithstanding - the economic gap between the haves and have-nots is not a significant problem.

Only 54 players said competitive balance was a big problem, 11 said it was a moderate problem, 100 a small problem and 282 no problem.

"I really don't think that it's that big a deal," said Orioles second baseman Jerry Hairston. "I know that we play the Yankees 19 times and teams in other divisions play other teams, but you look at the schedule and adapt to it.

"Interleague play is kind of wacky sometimes, but I enjoy it and think it's good for the game."

For the most part, however, the players remained protective of baseball tradition. Only 70 respondents (17.4 percent) were in favor of keeping the QuesTec umpire evaluation system, and given a choice of rules they would like to see changed, the highest number of respondents favored making none at all.

"I think the game is perfect the way it is," Orioles outfielder Jay Gibbons said at the time of the survey.

The players also chose venerable Wrigley Field as their favorite ballpark, even though most major league cities now have state-of-the-art facilities that are far more player-friendly.

About 75 percent of the players polled indicated professional athletes have a responsibility to act as role models for youth, but the players apparently weren't concerned about the impact of postseason games that stretch past midnight.

Nearly two-thirds said no when asked if they felt that World Series games should start earlier.

Newsday contributed to this article.

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